West Chester will welcome catalog firm

Friday, May 22, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

In West Chester, new neighbors usually take up residence in smart, upscale subdivisions. The houses are big. But, not bigger than a football field.

This week, the booming southeast corner of Butler County landed a whopper of a new neighbor. International Cornerstone, a Boston catalog sales company, announced plans to build a distribution complex across the street from Lakota West High School.

The place will be humongous.

The Cornerstone center will cover 20 acres. Big enough for 15 football fields (including the end zones).

New jobs will be created for 1,100 workers. Their combined payroll will be $25 million. All of this will crop up in what just last year was a cornfield.

Today, the land is clear of all harvestable vegetation. Popping up are rows of yellow fireplugs -- surefire signs of just how far and how fast this once rural community has gone urban.

Everyone I ran into during a drive through West Chester welcomed Cornerstone. Even though they didn't know much about the company's catalogs, Frontgate, TravelSmith Outfitters and Whispering Pines.

"Never heard of them," said Mike Hargis, Lakota West's groundskeeper. "You got me," said Steve Honerlaw, owner of Eagle Tee Golf Center.

"Who?" asked construction worker Bryan Denton.

"Come again?" added Bryan's pal, Mickey Berry.

Insurance adjuster Cynthia Williams has heard of Frontgate. But she's never "bought anything from the catalog."

As unfamiliar as they are with Cornerstone's catalogs, they knew the significance of a 20-acre project.

"This is a very big deal to the area," Mike said.

"It'll mean," said Cynthia, "money, jobs and further development."

Listing concerns

Development comes at a price, and the people of West Chester know it well. Cornerstone's arrival has already raised concerns about traffic and taxes.

"Of an evening, when I get off from work, I have to wait and wait just to get through the intersection down the street," said Mike Hargis.

"I hate to think of what it's going to be like when 1,100 people get off work across the street."

He's also not looking forward to his next tax bill. "Every new development costs me money. My taxes have tripled in the last 11 years."

Simply talking about sitting in long lines of traffic and being taxed, as he put it, "out the wazoo," made Mike declare: "This place isn't country anymore. It's like the city."

When he was in high school, 43-year-old Steve Honerlaw baled hay on the Cornerstone site. The 20-acre plot was next to his family's farm on the border of old and new West Chester.

Today, part of the Honerlaw farm grows golf balls. Where cows once grazed, golfers practice their tee shots at the Eagle Tee Golf Center.

"Cornerstone will bring me business," Steve admitted. "Especially in the late afternoon." But he's worried about the tax abatements that sealed the deal for the plant.

"Somebody's going to have to pay those taxes that were deferred. And I think you're looking at him."

Welcome, neighbor

Despite these misgivings, no one I spoke with sees or seeks an end to the suburbanization of Butler Country.

"Every time you look there's another 150-house subdivision going up with $200,000 homes," Mike said.

"Land is cheap, housing costs are lower than, say Loveland, and the people are friendly," said Cynthia, who moved to West Chester in 1994.

"Everybody's in the same boat. Almost no one grew up here. So, it's easy to make friends."

Mickey Berry grew up in Sardinia. Bryan Denton is from Hamersville. They build houses in West Chester. After a morning spent wrestling sheets of plywood, they were on their lunch break when I caught up with them.

"I wouldn't work in a catalog warehouse," Bryan said. "I like to be outside. But I'm glad that thing's coming."

Mickey explained why: Some Cornerstone workers will "want new houses close by." And that'll give him more wrestling matches with plywood.

"See, we don't have to know about these catalogs," Mickey said. He and Bryan applaud anything that brings jobs to West Chester. As Mickey told me: "To us, it's like money in the bank."

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.